Joy. After 7 years of homeschooling, I’ve had years where not all gears clicked; we may have been successful in many areas, but not everything went the way I wanted it to. Last year, I noticed the joy from certain types of ventures was missing…
Last year, I started my mission to bring back joy in our homeschool. (I wrote about that in Ever Feel Like You’re the Least Favorite Teacher In Your Homeschool?) That was about me changing myself and was largely spiritual in nature. Now I’m onto phase two…
I have two, count ’em: TWO crafty kids:
And one of them is not my first-born who, let’s face it, was really the arrowhead of our homeschool and whose preferences have dictated or tempered many choices. I designed every class to fit him first. Then others came along when we already had a groove. And it didn’t include crafts.
I confessed in a post last fall that I’m NOT that Crafty Mom. Also, being crafty is time-consuming! Guess what this part-time-working homeschooling mom of multiples has had a shortage of??! TIME.
But despite my lack of time and a penchant for crafts, two of my kids still insist that crafting brings them great joy! And if I don’t plan crafts, they cut up egg cartons to make headphones for stuffed animals, make high heels from styrofoam, repurpose anything plastic, and dig through the trash to find what they consider a great arm for a robot or a suitable material for a tutu.
When I was really tired (I once had a physical injury that really lessened my energy for much of a year) or busy, I told myself: “At least I’m providing them time and supplies to create.” Every year, I let them have at least an hour of free, quiet time a day in separate rooms, and they made a lot of stuff. Sometimes with purely their imaginations, sometimes with how-to books. I told myself access and time were really the most important ingredients. I still think that’s true.
But I wanted this year’s schooling to be different in that creative joy was really part of our instructional time together.
I’m not crafty, but I’m creative and artistic. (There is a difference. I think being crafty lies in, perhaps, an ability to see possibilities and be creative as well having the motivation to get all the supplies and pieces ready. I know crafty people who aren’t very artistic– i.e. skilled in the fine arts–but they appreciate creativity and are super organized and can get it together! I’m definitely more artistic than crafty, and I’ve honestly not been the mom to pre-cut colored paper and get little pom-poms for a 1-2-3 gluing activity very often in all my years of parenting.)
The above represents the one craft I managed to fit in last year….
I’ve not had the time, to be honest. Or the great conviction or interest.
But I knew that if there was one thing I could change to bring joy to two children at once, it was to have a lot of craft time in our school.
Over the summer, my planning time was focused on how I could get at least two crafts in each week with my younger kids, as part of science or history lessons. I KNEW this planning had to occur over the summer because my school year gets so busy.
But with lack of time, and eventually, energy, how can a mom sustain and manage planning so many crafty activities and not lose steam? And then I hit on something that has been my salvation in this area: variations on a theme.
I can’t reinvent the wheel every week; I don’t have time to search through Pinterest and craft books and go get supplies for new projects on a regular basis. So, I planned two different themes and made a list of variations within each that can give my kids:
- different materials to work with
- different experiences
- new explorations
MARINE BIOLOGY CRAFTS
First, I planned a science unit my daughter requested about seashells. Who knew a $1 clearance book about seashells could be so rich? I hadn’t realized all that her request would teach us about the animal kingdom, mollusk behavior, ocean depths and tides, food-chain relationships among sea and land creatures, and more.
She asked to learn about pretty sea shells, but we’ve been feasting on a dazzling variety of sea creatures that wow us–like scallops with their multiple rows of blue eyes or the way lightning whelks feed, or the source for purple dye of the ancient Romans.
To make crafts to support their learning, the kids are making a big poster of the shells they learned about. For each shell, we make:
1) an index card with its name and a few facts the kids chose and
2) a representation of that shells on another card.
We then tape the two cards together along the top, forming a card hinged at top which I mount on the poster board. This way, you see the picture/representation of the shell and you can lift up the top card to read about it.
The crafting? Shells, each one made differently. Here are some ideas we’ve done or plan to do:
- Glue sand across the blank surface of an index card. Draw, color and cut out a shell and paste it on top. Shell on a beach! Just gluing sand was a novelty. I’d had sand in little baggies from a project from before kids…what a great way to use it.
- Use air-drying clay to mold shells. When dry, paint them then mount them on a card.
Both kids made a spirula–the cream-colored spiral each is holding–which is actually an air chamber from a squid. She also made a pink horn shell. She had fun using tools to make texture on its surface.
Two shells in progress of mine, gray clay, on top of the awesome $1 book I found at a second-hand bookstore.
- Use Sculpey clay to make the variegated, colorful shells. (If you’ve learned how to make polymer clay canes or otherwise braid colors to make designs, that’ll be perfect for making some of the intricate/mottled colored shells)
- Make 3D shells out of paper items, such as mini cupcake wrappers to make bivalve shells.
I had an idea to make a 3D scallop, but this kid had a different idea. I let him run with it, and here is his result: an orange calico scallop. The most fun was making the rows of blue eyes in the middle.
- Use glitter pens to draw iridescent shells
- Use glue and sprinkled glitter for other iridescent shells
- Paint shell-shaped pasta noodles
- Use markers for the few very boldly colored shells, such as coquinas. (Getting to use markers is kind of big for my kids because I don’t let them all the time.)
- Make two layers of a shell and hold them together with brads so viewers can shift the layers and see the inside colors. We read that pen shells are often overlooked because they are unimpressively brown–but an under layer features pearly pastels
- Invent ways, with their input, to show things that attach to shells–barnacles, rocks, other shells and anchors. My kids had fun making the “golden fleece” threads coming out of pen shells (above).
- Ask your crafty kids for their ideas on how to represent a shape–they have ideas–even if they don’t work at first blush.
I don’t even know all the variations we might do. We’ve been doing this for a month now–three mornings a week for 30-60 minutes each time. If it seems to lose its luster, we’ll pause and go to another unit study–and may come back later.
The variation is key for my kids. It needs to feel like a different project, not the same one all the time. But for me, and my survival, there needs to be something that is the same. I can do variations on this theme to make it what they need AND still be able to maintain it!
My other craft-heavy subject is history. I’m building my study of the middle ages through various books–both fiction and nonfiction. I bought a ton of educational coloring books, starting with one on the Celtic people. My coloring books take us all the way through the Renaissance and cover everything from explorers to monarchs to medical professionals.
We made a large map of Europe on big paper and put it in our kitchen. My thought was to put colored, cut-out people from our coloring books on the big map. For instance, so far my kids have put ancient Celtic peoples in northern Europe and moved them to what’s now Great Britain. They’ve moved Roman soldiers from Italy to England. Now they’re coloring Anglos and Saxons (varieties of Viking peoples) who will invade the island and take over. We use the cut-out people like paper dolls moving around the map.
I’ve been reading from The Usborne Encyclopedia of History (great, detailed illustrations) and various picture books. While the kids are coloring, I read them myths and literature from the cultures. (My son just read a Beowolf story for another class–fits right in.)
But I have so many educational coloring pages–about 15–owing to a clearance sale of Dover and Bellerophone books at a homeschool supply store.
My kids like coloring, but not THAT much!
I know I have to have variations on how we use those coloring pages of figures or their excitement will fizzle. My variations on using all those coloring book pages:
- tracing a figure on parchment paper and coloring with Sharpie markers to look like stained glass
- tracing an image onto foil with a dull pencil, so all we get are indentations to look like metal working.
- Using Elmer’s glue to trace over the bold black lines of a figure drawing; when that dries, you can paint the between sections more easily. And it looks cool!
- fashioning a figure to become a stand-up paper doll
- using colored pencils
- using pen and ink to make intricate designs (great for some Renaissance period armor, particularly Italian–it got rather frilly…)
- trying pointillism!
- breaking out metallic colored pencils (again, good for armor…)
- taking images for the coloring books to make into a mobile using a coat hanger
- transferring images onto black construction paper by using white chalk rubbed on the underside. (Then sharpen the lines by tracing the smudgy lines that transfer.)
- using gel pens on black
- covering a figure with different types of paper, collage style
- Use a variety of materials of different textures to glue onto figures: sand, sequins, yarn, ribbon, glitter…
- making period-appropriate paint–egg paint–and using that to color the images
- cutting out select shapes of the image and gluing the cut-up figure to a brightly-colored sheet of paper.
- free-hand drawing/copying an image
And who knows what else we get into overtime…my kids will surely have their own ideas over time.
My goal is 3 times a week, we should do one or the other of these projects. I have a time slot in the morning that works well for this, and so I use that time for either history or science, whichever one needs the table for the messiness.
I’m not struggling to come up with ideas or finding the time to plan a craft–as I had in the past. Now it’s mostly about just getting out different supplies, which I did, mostly, purchase already over the summer.
So far, in the 4-5 weeks we’ve been doing school, these have been great. My kids seem to be enjoying things this year, and I’m actually enjoying schooling them more this year than any other I can remember…